Outstanding Academic Titles 2021: Philosophy

Enjoy these five selections from the Choice Reviews 2020 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight philosophy titles.

1. At the risk of thinking: an intellectual biography of Julia Kristeva
Jardine, Alice. ed. by Mari Ruti Bloomsbury Academic, 2020

Jardine, professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies and of Romance languages and literatures (Harvard Univ.), was Julia Kristeva’s doctoral student during the latter’s first appointment to Columbia and has written a wonderfully informative biography—the first. A self-styled “contestatory” cosmopolitan public intellectual, Kristeva is a Bulgarian/French philosopher, political theorist, linguist, social activist, clinical psychoanalyst, and polymath. Author of over 50 books and hundreds of papers, she has lectured all over the world. Moving to Paris from the Soviet bloc in the 1960s, Kristeva was soon a figure among the avant-garde literati, marrying the founder of Tel Quel (Phillipe Sollers), with whom she has a disabled son who lives with them. The author shows how Kristeva’s life events vigorously inspire her famously complex writings on language, alienation, love, despair, motherhood, the disabled, the foundations of belief, and individual subjectivity. As told here, Kristeva writes theory “by day” and novels “by night.” For her, “writing is living, and living is writing.” Jardine conveys the joys, pains, and struggles of this supremely creative life, animating for the reader a compassionate, brilliant woman, in her own words “an energetic pessimist.” View on Amazon

2. On justice: philosphy, history, foundations
Risse, Mathias. Cambridge, 2020

Those musing on whether a single idea of justice could transcend the limits of tradition and social context will find this book an invaluable resource. Risse (philosophy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Univ.) contends that the overwhelming majority of world cultures can embrace a notion of justice where each individual has an appropriate place and is respected for his/her capacity to hold that place. This is Risse’s definition of justice, which he arrives at it in section 2 of this book. He offers a finely argued account of the long development of the philosophy of justice. A more comprehensive and inspiring review would be difficult to come by. Curiously, Risse’s history of distributive justice is mainly grounded in Western thought. Some Eastern philosophers appear, but no great figures from Africa or Latin America. This is curious because of Risse’s condemnation of imperialism and white ignorance, which would seem to preclude any of those ideas as attractive to any other culture. View on Amazon

3. Kant’s transcendental deduction
Laywine, Alison. Oxford, 2020

The luminous obscurity of Kant’s “transcendental deduction” to Critique of Pure Reason (1781) has long been regarded as an all-or-nothing benchmark for scholars regarding whether his response to Hume is fully vindicated or instead represents an intriguing failure in the annals of epistemology. Kant’s earliest readers thought these pages too unclear to merit full vindication; and even Kant thought it best to publish a new, “B edition” of the first Critique, redrafting this section entirely. Thus began two centuries of second-guessing, with major traditions in modern philosophy subsequently divided over Kant’s differing expositions. In Kant’s Transcendental Deduction Laywine (McGill Univ.) makes public the brilliant results of her decades-long study into these pivotal but frequently disputed pages in Kant’s writings. Perceptively linking Kant’s concerns in the transcendental deduction with his pre-critical forays into cosmology, Laywine carefully reconstructs Kant’s argumentation with a probing comparison of such related texts as the Inaugural Dissertation and the Duisberg Nachlaß.  View on Amazon

4. Philosopher of the heart: the restless life of Søren Kierkegaard
Carlisle, Clare. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020

Few theologians are read as widely by undergraduates and graduates as Kierkegaard. Also author of On Habit (CH, Dec’14, 52-1891), among other works, Carlisle (King’s College London, UK) offers an engaging, passionate biography that will help others understand Kierkegaard’s corpus. This exploration of Kierkegaard’s life shows why he represented positions he did not believe or could not embody yet believed in the importance of believers’ relationship with Christ. Carlisle manages to represent Kierkegaard’s genius and at the same time recognize how his temperament made it difficult for him to win friends and form alliances with individuals he needed to engage and persuade in order to have a real effect on the practice of Christianity in Denmark. The author is open about Kierkegaard’s complex character, mental illness, and courtship of his fiancée (Regine Olsen), recognizing the philosopher’s genius but not hiding the ways his family wealth led to a break with the king, the bishop, and finally Olsen (whom he never married). With regard to the last, the author points to how the collapse of Kierkegaard’s engagement shaped his subsequent work.
View on Amazon

5Rousseau’s reader: strategies of persuasion and education
Scott, John T. Chicago, 2020

Political scientist Scott (Univ. of California, Davis) makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of Rousseau’s intention and thought in this excellent new book, which deserves a place in any Rousseau scholar’s library. Rousseau’s Reader focuses on Rousseau’s rhetoric in relation to his philosophy, and the relation between Rousseau, as author, and the various audiences his work found. What is particularly valuable is that Scott does not allow himself to be confined by disciplinary boundaries, making valuable (or, as he says, “piratical”) use of various approaches to literary criticism in his analysis. The book comprises an introduction (partly explaining Scott’s method), individual studies of The First and Second Discourses and On the Social Contract, as well as four chapters on the Emile text and a conclusion (which turns to similar considerations in the work of Thomas Hobbes). Overall, this is an outstanding book, the more so because it is accessible to readers across multiple levels. Both students and serious scholars of Rousseau will find new insights on every page. View on Amazon.

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